Key West suffers no shortage of colorful places to eat; the most charming of them is the humble, happy, hospitable shack called Fritas Cuban Burger Cafe. Named for its signature Frita Burger — a street-food treat from pre-Communist Havana — it serves traditional and wildly creative Cuban sandwiches, conch fritters, empanadas, tacos filled with guava-glazed pork, and an item called a Cuban cigar, which is like an egg roll but filled with ham, pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles.
The Frita Burger is a rugged pork and beef patty infused with garlic and spice, topped with peppery sauce and a great heap of shoestring potatoes, all piled into a Cuban roll. Manchengo cheese or a fried egg are available inclusions; but to me, it is unimprovable as-is: zesty, succulent, and a provocative textural balance of its potatoes’ airy, brittle crunch and the burger’s juicy avoirdupois.
Among Cuban sandwich variations is a work of genius known as the Cuban Wreck. “Wreck” is a play on weck, as in the beef on weck of Buffalo, New York, weck being short for kummelweck, meaning caraway seeds. But there are no caraway seeds on this fresh Cuban roll, which is spangled with coarse salt and pepper. Inside is not beef, but mojo roasted pork — so exquisitely tender, so deeply flavorful, and so juicy that its flavor seeps into the roll and makes the salty bread itself irresistible.
As you might guess from the nearly homonymous name of the Wreck sandwich, Fritas is a playful place, extraordinarily so. Its own name is the source of a primary decorative theme throughout the eclectic dining area: the art of Frida Kahlo. Variations of her self-portraits are everywhere. Indeed, a sense of fun permeates the dining experience — in the exuberant variations of traditional Cuban street food as well as in a staff who are genuinely delighted when customers are happy with their meal. Really, what’s not to be happy about?